Did You Know?
Lunita is a true PCFG recruit who has followed in her mother’s footsteps to feed along the Oregon coast!

About Lunita

Even though “Lunita” is only two years old (as of 2024), they (sex currently unknown!) have quickly become a star of our dataset and hearts. We documented Lunita as a calf with their mother “Luna” (hence the name Lunita, which means little Luna/moon) in 2022. We observed the mom–calf pair in our study area for almost two weeks during which it seemed like Lunita was a very attentive calf, always staying close to Luna and appearing to benthic feed alongside their mom. As is often the case when we document mom-calf pairs, we wonder whether we will see the calf again and how it will fair in an environment increasingly impacted by human activities. Much to our delight, we were reunited with Lunita later in the same summer when we saw them feeding independently, indicating that they had successfully weaned. We were even more delighted when we were reunited with Lunita again many times during the summer of 2023 as Lunita spent almost the entire feeding season along the central Oregon coast. This is yet another example, much like “Cheetah” and “Pacman“, of successful internal recruitment of calves born to PCFG females into the PCFG sub-population.

Lunita’s high site fidelity to our study area in 2023 meant that she was an excellent candidate for the suction-cup tagging we have been conducting in the last few years. During suction-cup tagging, we attach a device (or tag) via suction cups to a whale’s back. The tag contains a number of different sensors, including an accelerometer (to measure speed), a gyroscope (to measure direction), and a magnetometer (to measure magnetic field), as well as a high-definition video camera and hydrophone (or underwater microphone). These tags typically stay on for a maximum of 24 hours before they pop off the whale leaving no harm to the whale. Upon retrieval, we can recreate the whale’s dive path and see the environment and conditions that the whale experienced over several hours. We sometimes refer to tagging as giving the gray whales some temporary jewelry because the tags are a very flashy, bright orange color (see image to the right). The video from Lunita’s tag shows how they soared through kelp forests feeding on mysids for many, many hours.

Facts and Figures

How to Identify Lunita:

Lunita has quite a few distinguishing pigmentation spots on their body, including one that looks a bit like a soaring bird. Can you spot it?
Lunita doesn't have the most unique dorsal hump or knuckles, so the pigmentation is really key to identifying them.
Lunita's Health History
Lunita’s body condition history is looking very good so far. Since they were a nursing calf when we first documented them in 2022, Lunita had a very high BAI, as they were receiving very fatty and nutritious milk from their mother Luna. When we saw them later that year once they had weaned, we were happy to see that they were even fatter than before, indicating that Lunita perhaps adapted well to being an independent feeder. In 2023, when Lunita returned to the Oregon coast for an entire feeding season, we can see that their body condition was still pretty high, suggesting that maybe Lunita has been clinging on to some “baby fat” or was taught well by Luna to fend for themselves.

We fly drones over whales and then measure how skinny or fat they are from the images we capture. We compare the body condition of whales using an index called the Body Area Index (BAI), which is like the Body Mass Index (BMI) used to compare the body condition of humans. Small BAI values mean the whale is skinnier and larger BAI values indicate the whale is fatter.